February 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Special Report: 2011's e-mail marketing lessons for the 2012 holiday season

2011's e-mail marketing lessons for the 2012 holiday season.

Now that the 2011 holiday shopping season is over, it's time for retailers to evaluate what they learned from their e-mail marketing campaigns in order to make the 2012 season even more successful.

During November and December 2011 e-mail volume generated from the top 100 retailers grew 20% compared to the same period in 2010, according to Responsys Inc., a provider of e-mail and cross-channel marketing services. And all those e-mail offers no doubt contributed to the 15% year-over-year increase in online retail sales during the holidays reported by web measurement firm comScore Inc.

But being the first into a consumer's e-mail inbox is not as important as offering the most relevant and compelling deals for each customer.

"The effectiveness of earlier starts for holiday e-mail campaigns and their increased frequency is hitting the ceiling," says Heather Blank, vice president of strategic services for Responsys Inc. "In 2012, holiday e-mail campaigns that effectively drive revenue will have to be more relevant to consumer's preferences and engage consumers on a deeper level."

One source of information retailers can leverage to create richer, more relevant marketing messages is social media. Monitoring how consumers engage with your brand on Facebook and Twitter can provide retailers with insights about how to target e-mail messages to them, and to their social network friends.

For example, if a shopper Likes a pair of slacks on Facebook a retailer can leverage that data to send the shopper an e-mail featuring those pants, a general promotion for pants or products the retailer knows go with the pants.

Influential voices

Retailers can get the biggest boost by targeting consumers who are particularly influential on the social web. A merchant can get a sense of a shopper's influence by the size of her social network, and gauge the likelihood she will advocate for a brand by her interactivity with it, such as how often she forwards promotions to social network pals.

"Social media users that influence those in their network like to be the first to receive special offers they can share because it gives them clout," Blank says. "The more retailers know about the preferences of social media users, the more apt they are to create e-mail campaigns that can measurably monetize the use of that information."

As part of its cross-channel marketing approach, Responsys tracks consumer behavior and preferences and uses that information to create e-mail, social media, mobile and display marketing campaigns.

Another consumer segment that will be especially important in 2012 is users of tablet computers like Apple Inc.'s iPad. The rapid adoption of tablets has made it easier for consumers to shop online while watching television or visiting relatives, something consumers often did during Thanksgiving weekend.

Key to engaging these consumers on a deeper level is to include interactive features tailored to tablets, such as the ability to move pages horizontally in either direction with the swipe of a finger. "While tablet users tend to convert at a high rate, they also consider the device to be an interactive form of entertainment," Blank says. "The more interactive the shopping experience, the more engaged they will be."

For shoppers using a smartphone, it is recommended retailers avoid using Flash in their e-mail templates as graphical images created with that Adobe technology will not display on the iPhone or the iPad. Retailers should also consider moving from e-mail templates specifically formatted for smartphones to the kind of HTML-based templates marketers use for conventional e-mail.

"More smartphones now render HTML templates, which provide a richer, more responsive experience. Besides, we found consumers do not respond as well to mobile-specific templates," Blank says. "Consumer preferences and shopping objectives don't change by device. Retailers should be focusing on creating e-mail campaigns that are more relevant and engaging across all digital channels through which they interact with consumers."

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